Summer Reading, Berkeley '97

The Origin of Species
Charles Darwin
Harvard University Press, 1859

The impact of this work on the world of science cannot be overstated. It is the foundation of modern biological thought. As it has rightfully been termed "one long argument," the rhetorical aspects of this masterfully written book also deserve mention. Therefore it is unfortunate that Darwin's theory of Natural Selection is so taken for granted in our modern society. In any case, The Origin of Species continues to be one of the top 25 best-selling books in the world every year. It is scientific theory straight from the horse's mouth and is a relevant read for any major.

Randy Clayton
Freshman, Molecular and Cell Biology

The Postman
David Brin
Bantam Books, 1986

The Postman is a great science fiction novel that should not be confused with the movie "Il Postino." The novel is based in a post World War III world. The story focuses on a wanderer who stumbles upon the vestiges of a lost civilization in the form of a dead postman. The wanderer picks up the uniform off the dead man and unwittingly assumes the identity of a U.S. postman. His adventures are heart touching and at times very sci-fi-ish but it is valuable to read because of the different perspective it gives to the world. Ethics, morality, human nature, and your basic heroism-run-amok are in the book. The most interesting facet of this book is that meshed into the story is a fable that makes everyone look at the world in a slightly different fashion.

Ray Ming Chang
Freshman, Political Science

White Noise
Don DeLillo
Viking Press, 1985

White Noise is a satirical portrayal of a modern family and its complete breakdown. With the increase of technology, the anxiety and fear of death become inescapable and govern the lives of adults while children are raised by the mass media and cradled in misinformation. DeLillo's shockingly accurate about the direction of modern society but will keep you laughing throughout.

Jacqueline Cooke
Sophomore, Ethnic Studies

Red Sky at Morning
Richard Bradford
Lippincott, 1968

Red Sky at Morning is a short novel about a teenage boy growing up in a small town in New Mexico while his father is away at war. He writes about his experiences with humor and a wry tenderness. You'll be in stitches while reading about everything from being chased by the town bully, to a bad date, to adventures he shares with his friends.

Alisa Seo
Sophomore, Ethnic Studies

A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes
Stephen Hawking
Bantam Books, 1988

A must for all science majors and even humanities majors. It demystifies science and it is especially useful to those taking Astronomy 10 to fulfill the physical science breadth requirement. Well written and insightful, it is a delight for all those who read it.

Eric Girma
Freshman, Molecular and Cell Biology

In Mad Love and War
Joy Harjo
Wesleyan University Press, 1990

This book exposed me to varied structures of poetry and to prose-poetry. It also introduced me to the Native American culture. Although cryptic at first, Harjo's poetry reveals aspects of traditional Native American culture and raises issues facing Native Americans in the United States.

Allison Tokunaga
Freshman, Resource Management

Bastard Out of Carolina
Dorothy Allison
Dutton, 1992

The child narrator of Bastard Out of Carolina offers an insightful and tormented view of life in Greenville County, South Carolina; a life in which she must cope with adolescence, poverty, and abuse. Her family knows her as Bone, a simple name for a complex and beautiful child. The narrator has childlike sensibilities and confusion, taking the reader along on her battle through adolescence. This novel exposes the dark underbelly of Southern rural society in a heart wrenching and gorgeous manner, explaining but not excusing the horrors Bone endures. This is not light beach reading; however, Allison is one of the best writers of the decade and reading Bastard is worth every minute.

Emalie P. Huriaux
Sophomore, English

The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx
Penguin Books, 1967

I believe that anyone can and will benefit from reading this treatise. I read it in my senior year of high school and it will be nearly impossible to describe how much it affected me. Currently, many people have a complete misconception of the fundamental ideas of Communism. By reading this essay a person can learn a great deal about one of the greatest political ideologies of all time and become familiar with the writing of one of history's greatest philosophers and engage in some deep introspection.

Shlomy Kattan
Sophomore, English

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925

This book is full of biblical, historical, and literary references and illusions. Fun reading and intellectually stimulating. Definitely referred to lots in college English classes. For anybody interested in the post war era, decadent prohibition era of the twenties or just interesting characters in general.

Joanne Chan
Freshman, English

Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Macmillan, 1956

The book is long and difficult to read as well as very complex and in depth. It is challenging, a book that makes you think about humanity and the world. It is a wonderful story of redemption, good versus evil, and individuality that will rest well in the minds of intelligent readers everywhere.

Erica R. Fagnan
Freshman, Economics/Business

The Old Testament
God, Jewish Scholars and Priests
Oxford University Press, 1955

I'm not a radically religious person, but I love the Bible. There is probably not a single text which has had as much influence on our culture as the Old Testament. There are an abundance of Biblical references/allusions in any of the social science/humanities courses that you will take at Berkeley. Even if you're an agnostic or an atheist you can appreciate the history of a people in exile or their entertaining tales. If you read the Bible as a piece of literature rather than a purely religious text, you can be both entertained and educated. I guarantee that if you make a Biblical reference in any of your freshman courses you are sure to impress your GSI or professor. I advise looking for a version which is in the two column form. (While this is slightly impious, it is much easier to read.)

Jason Kibbey
Freshman, Religious Studies

The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner
J. Cape and H. Smith, 1929

This book was exciting to read and amazing in the way that Faulkner presents three different characters' perspectives on the same story. Trying to figure out what actually happened is like trying to put a puzzle together. Everything revolves around the Compson family, a rather dysfunctional family, and how its members deal with each other. The reader follows the children from childhood to adulthood and sees everything from their eyes, including the eventual collapse of the family. I think I enjoyed trying to figure out what happened from the tangles of internal and external conversations the most as well as the strong feelings toward each character Faulkner evokes by telling it from their perspective. This is definitely a book to read more than once as you probably come away with something different each time.

Kimberly Cunningham
Sophomore, Genetics & Plant Biology

Also recommended by:
Ben Chou
Freshman, Molecular and Cell Biology

Sometimes a Great Notion
Ken Kesey
Viking Press, 1964

For vividly descriptive and wildly entertaining style, Kesey is unparalleled. In this particular novel he paints a strikingly realistic picture of a family and the intricate dynamics within it, all the while maintaining a fascinating story that leads to a definite climax and aftermath. For range of technique while maintaining overall clarity, Sometimes a Great Notion is matched only by Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, in my opinion. Fans of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will find similarly important issues dealt with in this novel, as well as a similar attention to the delicate relationships between characters. Overall, the beautiful descriptions of the Oregon countryside are the single best characteristics of this novel, conveyed with subtlety but unbelievable depth.

Benjamin Klafter
Freshman, Undeclared

In the Skin of a Lion
Michael Ondaatje
Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1987

Using some of the same characters seen in The English Patient, Ondaatje tells the story of immigrant workers in Toronto in the 1930's. His writing is poetic yet easily readable and the plot is compelling;  interweaving the stories of several characters and moving to an explosive finish. He tells the story of a group of laborers, revealing the lives that go behind the building of bridges and sewers, eloquently illustrating the quote on the first page that "Never again will a single story be told as if it were only one." An evocative and intense and amazingly humane look at the heroics of everyday survival.

Elizabeth Spackman
Freshman, Undeclare

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Tom Robbins
Houghton Mifflin, 1976

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues tells the tale of a hitchhiking female vagabond with a gross deformity. Although it is a comedy, and absolutely hilarious, it deals with subject matter (woman love) that is usually dealt with dramatically or not at all. This book is one of Tom Robbins' best; it is extremely well-written and delivered in an almost colloquial way, making it a great summer read.

Jeff Phan
Freshman, Biology

America Is in the Heart: A Personal History
Carlos Bulosan
Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1946

This book is an excellent autobiographical account of being Filipino-American/Asian American. Since this book contextualizes a personal experience within American history, it goes beyond other ethnic based novels like Native Son.

Grace Ma
Freshman, Biology

To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1927

This classic novel explores such issues as time, decay, isolation, and a woman's role in society. Woolf is a master of characterization and her free indirect style allows the reader to move in and out of the psyche of all of her characters. An excellent read!

Susan Brennan
Freshman, Sociology

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams
Harmony Books, 1979

This book will definitely give the reader a new viewpoint on life in general. Plus, it's a fun read (and who can argue with that?). I actually recommend reading the entire series of five books, consisting of: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe, and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless. While this may seem like a lot, each book is individually rather short; the entire series comprises probably about 700 or 800 pages. It's also a very easy read; none of that nasty symbolism stuff to impede your enjoyment of the book.

Asad Aboobaker
Freshman, Physics/Astrophysics

Back to UC Berkeley Summer Reading Lists

Copyright (C) 1997-2010 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley. All rights reserved.
Document maintained on server:
Last update 5/25/10. Server manager: Contact